With the recent Wuhan 2019-nCoV epidemic bringing viruses to the public eye once again, many people have become more curious about viruses: What are they? How can they spread? Am I at risk of getting infected? How can I protect myself against viral infections? As an STD clinic in Singapore that provides healthcare services for those infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the answers to these questions are at our fingertips. In this article, we will explain what viruses are and answer some common questions you may have about them.
What are viruses?
According to Live Science magazine, viruses are microscopic parasites. They are generally smaller than bacteria. Viruses are not actually living organisms. They cannot keep themselves in stable states; they do not grow and they do not make energy.
To replicate, a virus infects a living cell, also known as a host cell. They inject their genetic material, or DNA, into the host cell. Then, the cell then produces more copies of the virus, when can infect other cells. Viruses can thus grow exponentially in a short amount of time, infecting an organism by replicating itself in different host cells.
How do viruses spread?
Viruses can then transfer from person to person through the transmission of infected fluids. For instance, with HIV, the virus can be transmitted through sexual fluids such as vaginal, anal or seminal fluids. With the common influenza virus, direct contact with an infected person’s saliva could result in transmission. This is how viruses can transmit very rapidly from person to person. Each type of virus has its own method of transmission, as it infects different types of host cells.
When are you at risk of being infected?
Depending on the virus, your risk of being infected can vary. It also varies depending on how your immune system, your body’s natural defence system against viruses, react. When a new virus enters the body, it is possible that your body’s immune system responds by identifying the foreign parasite and attacking it to prevent it from infecting a host cell. As we get older, our body’s immune system gets weaker, which is why older people are more susceptible to viral infections. People with compromised immune systems, such as those with diabetes, are also at risk of falling very ill when a virus enters their body.
How can I protect myself from viral infections?
One method of protecting yourself from viral infections is to identify the virus’ mode of transmission and preventing it. HIV, for instance, is transmitted through unprotected sexual contact, allowing the virus to enter the bloodstream through sexual organs. By always ensuring safe sex, HIV would have no opportunity to infect the bloodstream.
Another way of preventing infections is through vaccines. Vaccines are a weakened version of a virus that is allowed to enter the human body so that the body’s immune system is able to develop a resistance against the virus. Vaccines generally exist in the form of an injection, like the flu jab.
All this information about viruses should give you a clear understanding of what viruses are, how they behave and how you can protect yourself against them.